As we inch closer to Week 1, two high-end fantasy stars have been major question marks amid contract controversies. While we got clarity on Josh Jacobs on Saturday when he agreed to a one-year deal with the Raiders after being frustrated with the franchise tag, Jonathan Taylor’s situation with the Colts took another contentious turn Tuesday.
Taylor was granted permission to find a “suitable” trade partner, but Tuesday's Colts-imposed deadline — which lined up with teams cutting their rosters down to 53 players — came and went without a deal. In the aftermath, the Colts put Taylor on the Physically Unable to Perform list, meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the season.
So, where does that leave fantasy managers ahead of the busiest draft stretch of the football season? Deciding how to approach Taylor and Jacobs in fantasy football drafts looked like it was going to be one of the monumental decisions gamers must make in 2023. It's much more clear now.
The state of affairs with Jonathan Taylor
Taylor seems to be in burned-bridge territory with the Colts. After putting him on the trade block for an asking price of what was reportedly a Round 1 pick or a package of picks that equal that level of value, he is back where he started without a new contract.
I always doubted the Colts would find a suitor willing to part with such assets and be ready to hand Taylor the extension he’s after. Still, there were reportedly six teams that inquired about Taylor, and two who made offers.
So now we're in a world where Taylor remains in Indy and will miss at least the opening month of the season. Even if Taylor had played in Week 1 as he attempted to rebound from a down 2022 campaign, there were major fantasy-only questions about his role.
Now, we’re at the point where I really can’t imagine a range where I’ll comfortably click his name, especially not at his current ADP (24.2 the last seven days).
Let’s back up a moment and look at the concerns from a fantasy perspective. Anthony Richardson taking over at quarterback is fundamentally going to change the entire Colts offense. We know mobile quarterbacks rarely feed targets to their running backs and that was never Taylor’s calling card (2.4 catches per game in his career) to begin with. A 20-catch season is within his range of outcomes.
Taylor’s elite fantasy season in 2021 came on the back of elite rushing efficiency and touchdown production. The first pillar should remain in a buddy approach with Richardson, who will attract defensive attention himself, but the second is a question mark. It’s tough to imagine Taylor accounting for double-digit touchdowns if Richardson siphons red-zone work as a runner, which is a near lock.
Not having access to receiving work and scoring area production cuts the margin for error for a fantasy RB1 quite thin. Add in the fact that he will play in a max of 13 games — if he's able to suit up in Week 5 — and the margin gets even thinner.
The state of affairs with Josh Jacobs
Then there is Jacobs, whom I officially moved Jacobs ahead of Taylor in my rankings even before he agreed to a one-year deal, but there are still a few minor red flags for those considering an investment in drafts.
Jacobs is a great back who should be able to amass another excellent season on the ground. However, he ran into a ton of light boxes and advantageous fronts in 2022 as defenses dedicated back-end attention to No. 1 wideout Davante Adams. They picked their poison and elected to live with Jacobs running all over them.
Adams is still on the team but there is some passing game volatility overall with Jimmy Garoppolo taking over for Derek Carr.
Carr could be frustrating when he’d get to checkdowns too quickly, but he’d gotten better about chucking the ball downfield in recent seasons. His willingness to push it vertically to Adams is a big reason the star wideout averaged a career high in yards per reception in 2022.
The top concern with Garoppolo is and has always been his unwillingness and/or lack of ability to throw the ball deep and outside. If teams start to squat on short routes with Garoppolo under center, that brings safeties closer to the line with cornerbacks ready to fit Jacobs’ run lanes. For systemic reasons alone, Jacobs could be less efficient on the ground this season.
When can you consider drafting the star RBs?
While Jacobs is back in the mix, I also expected Taylor to be on the field for the Colts in Week 1. That clearly won't happen.
Now, if either of these guys suffers injuries — Taylor is already dealing with maladies that plagued him last season — how motivated are they going to be to gut it out for teams that have given them zero long-term commitments? We could be looking at a pair of guys who would, understandably, elect to play it safe and shut down their seasons if their body is on the line. In Taylor's case, he might already be there.
That clearly increases the risk for both players.
All told, there are serious questions in the portfolios of Jonathan Taylor and Josh Jacobs even if the contract issues were never part of the equation. We can feel a little better about Jacobs, where he's more of a mid to late second-round selection — that's where our consensus rankings have him — compared to previously being more of a third-round target, but there are still risks with the shape of the offense. Truthfully, I still like the wide receivers available in his range of ADP almost every time.
When it comes to Taylor, I'm just out on drafting him this season. If you're still interested, you can't even consider it until the late sixth round of 10-team leagues. I have him slotted around Round 6 backs like Cam Akers and James Conner at the moment, two guys I also am not drafting often.
But I bet there will be someone in your draft room who won’t let him slide to that range.